Monday, February 10Eat The Fish Head.
A few nights ago, the Missus and I went out for Japanese food. We’ve both developed quite the fondness for Asian cuisine in recent months (Celia sticks to the tofu and vegetable dishes, while my newfound pescetarianism has me trying more shrimp and salmon) and the addiction is becoming increasingly difficult to hide from friends and loved ones. We’re hastily hiding sake and soy sauce under the sink when relatives visit; it’s getting sad.
We sat at the sushi bar enraptured, watching the chefs expertly create, roll, baste, flambé and arrange miniature works of art for every custom order sent their way. The artistic beauty in expertly-crafted food is undeniable; it’s almost secondary that everything at this restaurant happens to be delicious. You’re always rolling the dice with diarrhea when raw fish and seafood are involved, but I have yet to experience any 'grocery yodeling' in the near three dozen times I’ve frequented my local hibachi. I'm batting a thousand.
This Winter has been enough to drive anyone mad, but even amongst the Polar Vortex of 2014, we’re making out pretty well (and sometimes making out for real, baby). My day job is at a fever pitch, but I’m looking at some brighter horizons that don’t involve the theft of heavy office equipment and two middle fingers. The Missus just got promoted into a job so interesting that she officially has no reason to not start writing her first book. The cats are healthy and well-manicured. I fixed my gas fireplace without cratering our entire block, like a man. We have plenty of emergency wine. Olympic Curling is about to grace my television and flood my DVR. Life is as good as can be expected when it’s cold enough outside to glaze you over and snap you in half after 20 scant minutes of exposure.
“I started freaking out when I was driving home today,” the Missus said to me between nibbles of teriyaki-glazed tofu.
“What about?" I said while pretending I was any good with chopsticks. I’m getting there after a few hundred or so tries, but my technique could still be described as ‘little baby giraffe walk.’
“Well, I was just thinking. You know…things have been going pretty well for us recently. And I started feeling this...dread. Like we were due for a disaster. Like something bad was bound to happen to us.”
The Missus is not an anxiety-riddled woman; she had an honest reason to feel this way for, from an outsider’s perspective, what appeared to be nonsensical. It’s Zeinert Law: Bad shit will happen to you immediately upon realization that bad shit hasn’t happened to you for an extended period of time. It's like The Game. When you go any longer than a few weeks in my family without incident, it becomes unbearable and impossible to enjoy. With each day, you become more and more leery of the karma anvil that’s about to pancake you and everything you love.
Even as a firm believer in Zeinert's Law (I did invent it after all), I attempted to be the voice of reason and optimism, two things I find difficult to discuss without rolling my eyes.
“Look at it this way, honey. If you look for something hard enough, you’re guaranteed to find it. Just enjoy these experiences day-by-day and continue to strive for better. Furthermore, it’s not really like we’ve hit a spell of good luck. Consider it a culmination of 10 years of working hard as a couple and attempting to create a decent life for each other. We’ve earned a little reprieve every once in a while, right? Can’t we just be happy for a little while?”
I finished strong.
“And hey, I could get hit by a cement mixer later in the evening and you’ll have to spoon-feed me baby carrots for the rest of my life, but let's not deal with that until it happens.”
I was speaking the heartfelt truth (I was a little drunk), but it was still strange to hear such foreign language coming from my mouth. This was, quite simply, as optimistic of a thing as I am capable of saying. Enjoy the little things and be happy, but stay hungry and don’t be concerned with what you cannot change. It's timeless, bonehead, graduation speech wisdom that needs to be reiterated every once in a while so I don't forget. I wasn’t lying to myself. I truly believed my own advice. I felt like an adult. I felt wise.
These feelings of smug superiority lasted about three seconds though, as my chopstick hand slipped and a sushi piece splashed directly into my cocktail.
Everything was normal in the world again. Then they brought out the head.
I don’t understand enough about sushi restaurants to know for sure: Are you supposed to eat the deep-fried fish head they usually place alongside your sushi? Is it a delicacy, or is it just for decoration? Is it akin to parsley, or more like an after-dinner mint made of exoskeleton and brain?
It seems like a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. I mean, it looks like they worked very hard on the cooking and decorative preparation of the head, so if I refuse it, will they be insulted? On the other hand, if I do bite into it, are they all huddled behind the kitchen door, laughing at the latest lumpy white hipster to fall for their practical joke? There isn’t a fish head-related scenario where I emerge looking like a hero.
“Are you supposed to eat the whole thing?” I asked the waitress when she brought the head out on a SPECIAL PLATE. I didn’t ask for it on a special plate (or at all), yet they took the time to separately prepare it and serve it to me.
“Yes, you eat the whole thing,” she replied.
Social contract. I was dicked. I gotta eat it.
As I sat there, looking down at whatever sharp, spiny creature was staring back up at me (the eyes, of course, were included), I had a lot of thoughts cross my mind, and throwing up wasn’t the least of them. After all, I had only started eating shrimp and salmon recently after over a decade of full-on vegetarianism. Would this make me sick? If I yack onto the hibachi, will I be banned for life? Even though it wasn’t the case, I suddenly felt like every eye in the restaurant was on me, waiting to see if I would wuss out or dive in. In reality, the only eye staring at me was that of the decapitated fish I was bringing closer and closer to my mouth.
As of this week, I’ve been blogging and writing essays here at the CDP for 10 years. An entire decade full of scrapbook moments, life experiences, cat pictures and a glacier-like transitioning into full-on adulthood. And yeah, the CDP is a bit more sporadic than it used to be in the glory days, but it has everything to do with my sushi bar conversation with the Missus. It’s because I’m happy. I'll never be 100% comfortable, but I'm definitely happy.
I thrive on frustration, embarrassment and misery when I write. Taking unfortunate paths in life is sort of my thing, but life has been relatively (and bizarrely) fulfilling this past year (as fulfilling as they can be when you’re perpetually misanthropic and freezing cold). A more professional, creative writer would have found another muse. I'm not really that sort of guy. I've instead chosen to harness my anxiety about stagnation, and appreciate the positive moments we've created for ourselves. I also think that people who write about how awesome their life is more than once a year are liars who are hiding a dark, terrible secret, but it's merely a standing theory.
Nearly 10 years ago (about four months after the CDP was launched), Celia and I got married. We were young, and naturally, every relative came out of the woodwork in an attempt to convince us that we were making the biggest mistake of our lives. In retrospect, I don't blame them.
Look at us. For real, look at us. For the first time in a long time, I saw the above picture of us and literally gasped. It sounds crazy, but I gasped because I immediately understood what everyone was worried about. As a 32-year-old man, I gasped because I was worried about the future of these kids. But we dove in, and we nailed it. Because that's what we do, and that's what we still do. We dive in. At the sushi place, Celia may have been justified in expecting the worst because things have been better than usual, but even if the shit blows up in our face tomorrow, we don't quit.
We dive in.
I bit the face of that goddamn fish right off.
It was crunchy beyond comprehension. The fried bits of exoskeleton, feeler and skull tore the insides of my mouth. Smoke billowed from the hole I left in the head, where the tiny, blood-red brain was now exposed. It was disgusting. I took another bite.
Celia gave me a look. What I had hoped was that she recognized that I was making a point. A point going back to what I said earlier about embracing the moment and not worrying about shit too much. About trying new things together, diving in and feeling good about the culmination of 10 years as a married couple. About looking Zeinert's Law in the face and publicly denying its existence. About how we've always been okay, and how we were always going to be okay.
Her look said something different. It was more like, "You're an idiot, you're going to be very sick tomorrow, and you're extremely lucky that I've stuck around for the last decade."
Hey, close enough for me.
Happy 10th Anniversary to us, and Happy 10th Anniversary to the Communist Dance Party. This decade-long transition and journey between myself, Celia and somehow getting from 22 to 32 without losing any limbs has happened all under the watch of the CDP, every smidgen of it, and you can experience it from the beginning if you so choose. It's all here for you. If you're new, please look around. If you've been here since the beginning, thank you for still finding my life interesting enough to stick around. I'm going to write more stuff this year, I promise.
I'm going to go back to vegetarianism for a while.
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